My iPad – Post 6 – App Developers: Raise the Bar

Uh oh. Someone published an article telling me Flatland has big problems. It does?

Here’s the scoop. A group recently tested the iPad among certain potential users and published their thoughts in iPad Usability: First Findings from User Testing. I can’t vouch for this research method but they chose a long list of apps which they forced people to use (most of which I’ve never cared to use).

I think they very accurately identified some things that need to evolve on the iPad. Unfortunately, they should be more careful in their write-up: The issues primarily surround raising the bar for iPad apps.

Primarily, iPad apps need a better set of “common practices” — i.e. a clear visual language across all apps so that the user knows what they can do at ANY point in time.

In part this is a result of the fact that the iPad is a radical change. This same issue is found in the early days of any visual interface. We saw it with GUI interfaces (yes, I’m that old) and the early internet.

It also comes because app developers need to change their expectations – this isn’t just a big iPod Touch. The screen size raises expectations dramatically among users.

Let me use the WordPress app as one example. It was developed here in Portland under very limited schedules. It’s great in many, many ways and WILL BE superb. But today, you can’t cut, copy, or paste text.

Huh? They compromised and released an edit based app with no edit functions? If it was on my iPhone I wouldn’t care because I’d only be writing single paragraph blurbs. But, I will use my iPad for much more. So I demand more.

It appears app developers put much of their bar raising purely into their cool graphics. Nice. But they need to deliver an experience that leverages the iPad’s potential.

I fully disagree with the study in two major areas: They suggest the tab bar is too small. If this turns into a “Big Chief iTablet” I will send it back (the EA Scrabble app already verges upon this).

I also disagree with their comments on selecting small sized buttons – which I’m naturally selecting with 100% accuracy despite large fingers.

But if you sit back, there’s an interesting & useful truth in their critique: size is everything when it comes to ability and expectations for mobile devices. Apple has clearly gone beyond merely making an oversized iPod touch. Now app developers (led by Apple) need to integrate that reality into their apps.

Copyright 2010. Doug Garnett

My iPad – Post 5 – Keyboard Solution Means Portability with Desktop Capability

When Apple announced the iPad, many technologists criticized them for relying on the touchscreen for a keyboard. I was disappointed that Apple offered no explanation at the time. Because there’s a surprise bit of brilliance in Apple’s keyboard strategy.

Just like the iPhone, the iPad features a touch screen keyboard which resizes depending on whether you are holding it in landscape or portrait mode. This keyboard is an advance toward simplicity from the iPhone. Sitting table top with the iPad propped at an angle I get pretty good speed from it. And, I know people who find it quite convenient in this mode. But it’s not as good as a full size keyboard.

Critics say that Apple ‘should have’ added some type of physical keyboard. That’s nice. But none of these critics know what advantages Apple gains with the touchscreen. What would I have had to sacrifice to have a physical keyboard? Shorter battery life? Added weight? Smaller screen? Larger footprint? None of these makes sense.

More importantly, consider what we could realistically have gained with these compromises. ANY physical keyboard on a handheld device is compromised Look at Treo, Blackberry, Samsung, and other handheld devices. None of them have “real” keyboards.

And that is Apple’s brilliance: When I need to type more extensively, I just put my iPad in the full size keyboard dock. And while in the dock, I type and enter data as fast as I would on a full size desktop computer. And Apple offers yet one more full sized option. Any Apple wireless keyboard will connect via Bluetooth.

With the iPad, when I need to carry something small with some data entry, I have all the ability I need. And when I need to sit and write, I have the full size keyboard that works best.

Seems like some smart choices to me.

My iPad – Post 4 – The Human Scale

Sometimes it’s the small things that make a product revolutionary. That’s part of what drives some Windows advocates crazy about the Mac. Many small Mac advantages add up to a big advantage to the people who appreciate them. But, it’s much easier to respect a single feature that delivers an outright, hands down, unequivocal win.

Hence, highly complex products become reduced to single (and generally meaningless) numbers. Vacuums are rated by watts, power drills by volts, PC’s by raw CPU clock speed and higher education by list like “US News Top 100 Report”. None of these reflects product quality, power, or value. But salesman and retailers rely on them and we begin to as well.

But I digress. To the point, Flatland (my 32 GB iPad 3G) is revealing “small things” that add up to sea change. Had a meeting in a suite today. Sitting on the sofa I was able to set the iPad in my lap and casually bring up websites we needed for the meeting, search for small bits of information we needed, and look at memo’s we were discussing.

What I noticed was the ease with which this worked into the meeting while enabling deeper discussion – improving the quality of the meeting. I wouldn’t have used a laptop for these purposes. It would have been wrong to disappear behind the screen.

Is this big deal? Not really. And yes, absolutely.

No, because it’s really a simple small thing where I merely liked my iPad for what it allowed. But yes, because I think this is an indicator of how the iPad is a game changer.

There’s no way to consider a computer (even a laptop from Apple) to be anything but a machine. A machine takes thought to run, consideration to do things, and a skill level. But the iPad just works. And it’s just something I can use to make my day go better.

In many ways, Flatland is becoming a companion to the Moleskine reporter pads I carry for notes & thinking & to record what happens in meetings. On this business trip, I’m taking it everywhere & using it everywhere – on the show floor, to my meetings, to the restaurant for dinner. I’d never carry a laptop “everywhere”.

Having said this, I’m also quite clear that these experiences work for my personal style. And they make me appreciate how Apple’s team has reduced a mass of complex technology to an approachable human scale.

Copyright 2010. Doug Garnett

My iPad – Post 2 – Flying & a Trade Show

Today, Flatland and I took our first trip. To Las Vegas (whoopee – not) for the National Hardware Show (I like this show).

Worked on the flight down, played a few games, listened to music a read a bit. Worked great. Love it. You know what I think about Flatland.

But Flatland also changed two important things. First, no more airline seat laptop dance. That one where you hope the person in front of you doesn’t recline because then you’ll never see your laptop screen. (After all, there’s not much room back in 23D on an Alaska flight.) And, with a laptop, I remain in constant fear that if he does recline, it will catch the screen under the seat overhang and cause severe damage to it.

The iPad merely lays on the tray looking up. Easy to use. No laptop threat. And I got work done.

Then at the trade show I noticed all the strange things people do to make their laptops work. First, flip up the screen in a meeting and you disappear behind it. Not good body language. Something i don’t allow my students to do in class. But the iPad lays flat, so you can use it while remaining part of the group. Good group karma.

Then walking the trade show, I see people everywhere struggling with their laptops to open them up, to balance them on their bellies, on their arms, on the trash cans, on chair backs — anywhere — just to do some quick or long thing.

So of course, I feel quite studly having the iPad. Easy, out of the way, and -of course- cool.

Copyright 2010, Doug Garnett.

My iPad – Post 3 – Presentation Engine

You may wonder where post 2 is. Funny story. The WordPress App on the iPad ate it. But trust me, that post is quite insightful and when I finally get it back to life, it will make for great reading.

Tonite I used my iPad for my first presentation. Working from Keynote, I used the adapter to run the projector.

Smooth. And, instead of “hiding behind” a laptop, I had this simple interface laying in my lap so I could tap an arrow and move forward or back.

My only beef was that to move back & forth between Keynote and playing video was a bit funky. That should change. And, links will help (I hope).

Now, is it “a lot better” at presenting – not really. But all the other features (size, ease, compactness) are so powerful, that if I can jettison the laptop and carry merely my iPad on travel, I’ll be thrilled.

Because it was great to walk the trade show today carrying only my iPad – like a small portfolio. And, that Portfolio contained copies of documents I needed to look at with clients, video samples to show prospects, and the finished strategic presentations I would need to give later in the day. And if I needed a break, my music for some chill time.

Business productivity at its best.

Copyright 2010. Doug Garnett

My iPad – Post 1 – Missives from Flatland

Last Friday, I received my iPad and christened it “Flatland”.

It’s an iPad 3g, 32GB. And I ordered Apple’s case, an output cable so I could present from it, and the charging station keyboard (on which write this missive). And I spent my first weekend soberly considering its strengths and weaknesses.

Right. My wife might suggest it was a weekend of wide eyed amazement. And my staff suggested I christen it “my precious”. Don’t really know what they mean. đŸ™‚

So first reactions. Its amazing. Simply amazing. Fun to use, exciting to be an early adopter, and an exceptional product.

But more importantly, I think it’s going to change how we work. Apple has been appropriately low key about this (other than using the difficult marketing word “magical” – Disneyland’s magical, not Apple).

Here’s one example, I bought the keyboard dock. Mounted in the dock, it’s a great way to write. And, I’m fascinated by how intuitive it is to work without a mouse. Just point where I want to insert text – don’t have to figure out how to get the cursor from one place to another.

Not all the perfect features are yet in place & easy to use. But, given 6 months of App development, I’m wondering if the iPad can’t be essentially the first, mass market, touch screen desktop.

Touch screens on the desktop haven’t worked in the past outside specialized applications. But that’s because they couldn’t match and exceed traditional desktops.

Flatland is different. It doesn’t have to match the traditional desktop. It’s so highly portable, I’m willing to forgive weaknesses as a desktop that I’d never forgive otherwise.

Of course this is a silly idea for “superusers” who leverage a desktop for all it’s advantages. But the mass of people use their computers merely to browse, do a little writing, some presenting, and consume media. For this group, Apple may have surprised us all.

Copyright 2010. Doug Garnett.